Forums Trip Reports Hellmouth Couloir, Alex Lowe Peak (10,031) – 1/28-29
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  • #567433
    nomad
    288 Posts

    This last weekend, conflicting desires came to the forefront. On the one hand, I wanted to relax, cruise up to Beehive, catch up on work and chill out. On the other hand, the potential for tolerable weather posed the possibility of going for something larger, especially because it would become more and more difficult to take whole weekends off. On Thursday, Kyle suggested the possibility of going to Glacier Peak in the Beartooths, which I quickly nixed due to costs involved and the more stormy nature of that area. The other option was the Hellmouth couloir, a line only skied by two mountaineers in spring, and dead ones at that (Alex Lowe & Hans Saari). I was leaning towards the easy option until late Friday night, when the weather forecast was downgraded and my motivation kicked in – Hellmouth it was.

    On Saturday we began skinning at a leisurely 7:30 or 8, one of the latest starts of the season. With heavy packs, we slowly meandered along the cottonwood trail for 8.5 miles before setting up camp a few miles from the peak. A little exploration and easy trailbreaking up the drainage was in order, and we were able to catch a glimpse of the peak before heading back for dinner.

    A number of bridges had to be crossed on the trail in, which were icy, rounded balancing beams. Good thing the railings were there.

    The couloir is to the left of the huge center rock butress, hidden from sight

    The next day, we were up at 5:30 and skinning at 7, which brought us to the couloir in short order. We were unsure of the obstacles in there, as no one had a good description of the route. Barely anyone in town had known of the peak let alone heard of the route. All we were going off was the select peaks description posted here http://www.thomasturiano.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=70. This prompted the decision to boot up as far as we could, determining whether any impassable objects existed. The first blockage, a gigantic chockstone, was easily circumvented on thin snow cover.

    booting up to the chockstone

    Further up the couloir, we encountered a second blockage, this time a narrow, rocky constriction. We only had very minimal pro (there wasn’t anything solid to protect anyways), so Kyle volunteered to lead up the impasse without any safety measures, after which he would set up a picket/ice axe anchor for me. We donned our crampons, and Kyle headed up with our only set of ice tools (1 pair ice tools, one pair mountaineering axes). It proved to be impossible to haul our skiing gear through the constriction, so we decided to finish the climb without it. This proved to be a wise decision since only a couple turns could be linked at the top before rappeling. Once at the anchor, I conveniently remembered that the 2nd 30m 8 mil rope was still back down with our gear, so Kyle graciously went down and back up to retrieve it.

    After the first impasse

    Soon after the first pitch, another section of drytooling presented itself. This one was much more airy and exposed, and a fall would probably have resulted in death in the couloir or from falling off the mountain. There was no way that I would take the helm on this section, and I started making noises about how late we would be getting back.

    Kyle would have none of it, and he pushed on courageously up the totally unprotected pitch with only mini divots for tools and slightly better placements for his feet. In the middle, he placed a pathetic attempt at a sling, which was more for his confidence than any utilitarian purpose. After the sketchy rock face, he traversed across a short slope to a solid tree, and set up a solid anchor for me.

    By this time, I was quite cold waiting for the two ropes to be set up and the tools to be lowered (through no fault of Kyle’s). I was unsure of how my crampons would hold up with softboots in a steep drytooling situation, and even more unsure about my ability to pull through. Luckily, aside from getting snow dumped on me from gusts above, the pitch went well, and my pumped arms pulled me through the sketchiness. The crampons performed amazingly, without even minor slippage on my boots.

    Once at the tree, it was a relatively straightforward boot up to the ridge, then to the peak proper.

    Booting up after the climb

    Kyle coming up the ridge. We had to get all the way back to the valley in the distance this same day.

    On top

    Unremarkable view of the gallatins to the north

    Lower parts of the peak with other hidden couloirs

    We lingered on the summit a mere 5 minutes before heading down. As our packs were in the middle of the couloir, we had not had food or water since breakfast, and the day was starting to wane.

    Kyle rappeling down the exposed pitch.

    Me on the same pitch

    Starting the actual skiing

    And a nice turn with tired legs

    You can tell I’m tired by the hand drag and hunch

    The snow was tolerable

    We made quick time down to our campsite, and were packed up by 5:45. The entire skin out was in darkness, and the heavy packs on our tired bodies made for an unpleasant slog. Luckily, all the creeks were successfully crossed in the dark, and the car was reached at 10:30.

    Some thoughts:
    Kyle later confided in me that the whole drytooling without pro idea was rather stupid, and I concurred. At the time, I let him do it, but I should have considered the consequences of his actions more seriously. Luckily, all turned out well and we did not have to learn the hard way.

    The blue is the supposed route

    Lowe and Saari never described any other rappels than the chockstone at the bottom of the couloir. I can imagine having to rappel it in the summer, but even then the two largest obstacles would be at the top. In the middle of the couloir, we noticed a possible entrance shooting off left with a smidgeon of ice on it (much more than we found – none), but it is inconsistent with the blue line in the photo. All the other couloirs on the peak (except more well hidden ones) are more tame, and did not seem to be consistent with the given description. In the end, the only people that really know about the true line are deceased, so we will be left to wonder what they really skied. We were chasing ghosts up there on a peak named for one of the dead, and they led us straight into a couloir they would have loved. We should simply be grateful that we were allowed to leave, with an amazing experience as the only signs we had been there.

    Kyle’s TR which has a bit more description
    http://trex2.oscs.montana.edu/~kylec/hellmouth_couloir.htm

    #586194
    powderjunkie
    1669 Posts

    😯

    You guys are gettin’ some shit done this season. I like the adventurous spirit in you two.

    We all wanna keep seeing these TR’s so…….. be careful out there.

    #586195
    powpowhunter
    33 Posts

    That is an amazing summit picture.
    Oh yeah, the line looks pretty impressive too. 😛
    Big, bold and beautiful. Like your lines like you like your women?

    #586196
    dave
    100 Posts

    In the end, the only people that really know about the true line are deceased, so we will be left to wonder what they really skied. We were chasing ghosts up there on a peak named for one of the dead, and they led us straight into a couloir they would have loved. We should simply be grateful that we were allowed to leave, with an amazing experience as the only signs we had been there.

    that shows some serious character man. props for that and getting back in one piece. other than that, i’m speachless! 😯

    btw, i want my crampons back before you bend them. 😉

    #586197
    butryon
    47 Posts

    wow, impressive! great tr, gave me anxiety reading it.

    #586198

    Nice work Pat. Looks like it was a great weekend out.

    #586199
    huevon
    124 Posts

    You’re starting to sound like some other folks I know…

    http://www.cascadeclimbers.com/threadz/showflat.php/Cat/0/Number/540343/an/0/page/0#540343

    #586200
    philfort
    31 Posts

    Can we have some of this “tolerable weather” you speak of? Oh, and on a weekend, too? thanks!

    Sweet line!

    #586201
    Ecobrad
    2068 Posts

    Amazing trip report. Alex Lowe was a stud and so are you guys.

    What would you do differently if you did it again? Take an extra day?

    From what I can tell, Nomad’s no longer just a rider. He’s a mountaineer.

    #586202
    splittilps
    154 Posts

    Nice job!

    My friend and I skied Wheeler on Saturday and when I noticed skin tracks and that there a vehicle was in the lot before we got there and after we left I wondered to myself about the epic that someone was probably on.

    Now I know.

    PS I’m still amazed at how good the snow was up there considering there’s been very little fresh.

    #586203
    jack
    323 Posts

    nice work dude. awsome.

    you should post a TR on TAY too, i’msure those guys would love it see it.

    i have to ask, were those your ice tools? 😉 😆

    #586204
    lifelinksplit
    282 Posts

    Hell Yeah!! nice job guys. When I read about Kyle’s leg shaking it had me wondering what the hell you guys were up to. Good to see ya made back in one piece. After our trip this past weekend I can’t believe how stable the snowpack is lately.

    #586205
    nomad
    288 Posts

    Can we have some of this “tolerable weather” you speak of?

    No, and

    Oh, and on a weekend, too?

    No. Sorry – it is Washington after all 😈

    What would you do differently if you did it again? Take an extra day?

    If I could, I’d start from the Blackmore trailhead, in which case it could be done in one day. We didn’t want to risk getting stuck on the road in, and we don’t have a sled, so it wasn’t an option. Actually, our report has inspired a friend of mine to try the couloir on Saturday, minus the climb up the couloir. We’ll see how that goes…

    I’m still amazed at how good the snow was up there considering there’s been very little fresh.

    Yeah, if you’re willing to work for it around here the snow can stay fresh for weeks after a snowfall, even if it gets somewhat warm.

    Thanks for the props dudes!

    #586206
    lewmt
    570 Posts

    Just freakin amazin – you guys are kickin ass.

    #586207
    rminton
    1 Posts

    As nomad mentioned, I was rather inspired by his efforts up in the Cottonwood drainage and decided to see if the line could be accomplished in a days time. On Saturday, we approached the line via the Blackmore trailhead, and to make a long story short, the line is entirely feasible in a day. Snow and weather conditions on the approach and on the line itself were less than ideal, however, and prevented us from accomplishing the goal, which was to ascend the peak from the east and drop down to the rappels which would lead us to the line. We determined, however, that by approaching straight up and over the Blackmore/Cottonwood saddle and staying high on the traverse around the Cottonwood drainage would allow for a very mellow approach/ascent of the line/peak. Gear included a 60m rope, some cord for anchors, and one tool each. The entire ascent of the peak is protected by trees, thus reducing the stress and lowering anxiety (the line itself provides plenty of this). We were turned back by extremely high winds and piss-poor snow conditions (wind fucked, slabby in some spots, sugary in most others), but we did get a good look at the line and approach (a little too close to walk away without feeling cheated, actually). But, as is always the case, the line is not going anywhere, and I plan on returning in the near future to execute the whole thing now that approach info is fresh in my mind.

    The line is somewhat intimidating to look at but is truly an inspiring feature on an already impressive peak. If interested, I would encourage anyone with a strong skiing and mountaineering background to give it a shot. In my mind, the history of this line represents the evolution of our ventures into the mountains. It’s inspiring to see two motivated people tackle a line that has such an elusive and mysterious history and to succeed on it. And, in all actuality, it is truly doable- this, however, is NOT to say that the line is to be taken lightly. There is still potential for very serious consequence.

    At any rate, that’s my .02. Congrats again to nomad, and good luck to future adventurers!

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